Monday, February 21, 2022

Book Review: Babylon's Ashes

book cover for Babylon's AshesBook six in The Expanse series. If you haven't read book five, some of this review might be spoilerish.

A revolution brewing for generations has begun in fire. It will end in blood.

The Free Navy - a violent group of Belters in black-market military ships - has crippled the Earth and begun a campaign of piracy and violence among the outer planets. The colony ships heading for the thousand new worlds on the far side of the alien ring gates are easy prey, and no single navy remains strong enough to protect them.

James Holden and his crew know the strengths and weaknesses of this new force better than anyone. Outnumbered and outgunned, the embattled remnants of the old political powers call on the
Rocinante for a desperate mission to reach Medina Station at the heart of the gate network.

But the new alliances are as flawed as the old, and the struggle for power has only just begun. As the chaos grows, an alien mystery deepens. Pirate fleets, mutiny and betrayal may be the least of the
Rocinante's problems. And in the uncanny spaces past the ring gates, the choices of a few damaged and desperate people may determine the fate of more than just humanity.

Basically, this is "life in war time," solar system edition. The book isn't focused on military engagements so much as how people are dealing with the war. Nineteen different people get at least one chapter. Besides the POVs of the Rocinante crew, we get chapters representing Marcos Inaros, the megalomaniac leader of The Free Navy; his son Filip; a few Belters working on Medina Station; biologist Prax Meng, whom you might recall from Caliban's War; Michio Pa, whom you might recall from Abaddon's Gate; the delightfully foul-mouthed Chrisjen Avasarala, and more.

I enjoyed the diverse assembly of viewpoints. It kept me engaged, which might've been difficult to do considering what little actually transpires during this 544-page behemoth. There's a lot of waiting around for things to happen, but from what I've read elsewhere, that's often what happens in war.

With the exception of Marcos, no one is really painted as evil. The authors try to show how there are good people on all sides, that the circumstances of one's life leads one to make choices, join a team that makes empty promises. There are obvious parallels to life in Axis-occupied Europe during WW2 or even the Soviet Union: propaganda everywhere, dissenters disappearing in the night, secret police interrogations, everyday people just trying to keep their heads down to avoid suspicion and sometimes failing. There's hope that everything will be alright until something happens that affirms that things are actually very wrong.

I particularly enjoyed Alex's two chapters which dealt with the importance of finding an emotional connection, someone to share your downtime with before you ship out again—and might very well die. Alex is out at a bar with his crewmates from the Roci and sharing stories with Fred Johnson's crew, deflating the tension from battle. He finds himself exchanging flirtations with one of them.
He didn't know if the way her eyes were locked on his was a sign of how drunk she'd gotten, the beginning of an erotic invitation, or a little bit of both. Either way, he found himself smiling back.

Her knee pressed against Alex's in a way that was absolutely innocent. Unless it wasn't, in which case it
absolutely wasn't.
And later...
Maybe it was only that he knew how much the war might take from them all, and she was his chance to refill some cistern of his heart and body that there wasn't going to be time for later. A place of gentleness and affection and pleasure like a hurrican eye.
Now if only the ending hadn't been so Deus ex Machina, I probably would've really enjoyed it. Enough hints had been dropped, from the end of Nemesis Games right up through a certain investigation in this one, to know that the way it's going to end. Still, the resolution of this middle trilogy wasn't satisfying. But I guess it's ok because I still have three more books to go.

4 stars. Quite possibly lower for some people.